Newsround – 14th to 20th January 2023

After last week’s wet and windy washout, daily frosts ensued and daytime temperatures plummeted, bottoming out at a chilly 2°C, as a northerly, Arctic airstream quickly took hold. New birds were in short supply, however, and the main attraction for some this week was a female Greater Scaup at Hollowell Reservoir.

Seemingly settled after its discovery on 16th, this bird remained faithful to the eastern side of the reservoir throughout the remainder of the period. Over the last 5 years, Greater Scaup has averaged 11 records annually. No doubt there will be more to come.

Female Greater Scaup, Hollowell Res, 18th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)
Female Greater Scaup, Hollowell Res, 19th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

Other ducks were available, of course, including the long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard clocking up another week at Stanford Res and the female remaining at Hardingstone GP until at least 17th. Also lingering until the latter date was a drake Smew at Pitsford Res.

The county’s only Pink-footed Goose – normally to be found at Ravensthorpe Res – left the latter site with Greylags on 20th to visit nearby Hollowell.

Pink-footed Goose, Ravensthorpe Res, 17th January 2023 (Bob Bullock)

Once again, the week’s one notable wader species was limited to Jack Snipe with singles at three localities, which included both the Brampton Valley and Summer Leys on 17th and Hollowell, three days later, on 20th.

Gull numbers were down on last week and much of the action was to be had at the significantly sizeable gull roost at Stanford, where what was presumably the previous week’s first-winter Mediterranean Gull was seen on 19th. Two adult Caspian Gulls were also there on 14th, followed by one on 19th, while the regular adult at Hollowell was joined there by a second-winter on 16th. Single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited both Naseby and Pitsford Reservoirs on 18th and Hardingstone GP on 19th.

The winter so far has not been the greatest for numbers of Cattle Egrets. The local Nene Valley population appears to have taken a dive and birds are currently by no means guaranteed at the localities at which they once were. Weather-related or not, the period’s sole record relates to just one, flying west over Summer Leys, on 15th.

Also down this week were raptors, with just a Marsh Harrier flying west at Pitsford on 14th representing the poorest showing for some appreciable time.

But on a more promising note, heading up the period’s passerines were at least two Siberian Chiffchaffs, discovered at Ecton SF on the last day of the week. Once again they were present with some twenty to thirty wintering Common Chiffchaffs, in the traditional place which normally attracts them, along the outflow into the River Nene. This outflow has its own microclimate, in which ‘warmer than ambient’ effluent water allows insects to develop and emerge throughout the winter. By no means annual here, they have been observed in previous winters from the locally famous ‘Bridge of Sibes’ or, in down-to-earth alphanumeric reference terms, bridge K121.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 20th January 2023 (Alan Coles)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 20th January 2023 (Bob Bullock)

Identification is not always straightforward but we are better clued up than we were ten years ago (see here). Another bird showing characteristics of this race was found at Stortons GP on 15th and was still present there on 19th. This bird showed a minor excess of olive and yellow in its plumage and may simply be a variant colloquially known as fulvescens, usually associated with having originated from the western end of this (sub)species range. Common Chiffchaffs can, sometimes, also be quite grey, representing a potential ID pitfall. So, is Siberian Chiffchaff a species in waiting? The likelihood is high. Birdlife international have now split it …

Less challenging things abound, however, and the week’s Stonechats were found at Hollowell, Pitsford and Earls Barton GP, where there were one, two and three, respectively.

A Hawfinch was reported briefly at Yardley Gobion on 18th.

Newsround – 7th to 13th January 2023

Looking initially like a largely flat week, the continuation of above average temperatures, rain and an erratic, wuthering wind off the Atlantic probably did little to lift local spirits. Factor in fleeting occurrences of the rare and the scarce, along with birds tantalisingly off limits and, arguably for many, there was seemingly little to shout about.  

Routine reservoir watching established the ongoing presence of the Pink-footed Goose at Ravensthorpe, lingering until the end of the week. Also remaining on site throughout was the drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford, while the female at Hardingstone GP went unreported after 8th. Pitsford continued to host two drake Smews until at least 8th, with one still present on 13th and a Greater Scaup was reported in Scaldwell Bay there, also on 8th.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 8th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

The week’s only waders of note were Jack Snipes – one at Barnes Meadow LNR on 8th followed, on 9th, by one at Summer Leys LNR and two at Ditchford GP.

Hot on the heels of last week’s adult at Daventry CP was another Kittiwake – this time a first-winter and, this time, in the gull roost at Stanford on 9th. The past week has seen a number of records across the Midlands, namely in Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

First-winter Kittiwake, Stanford Res, 9th January 2023 (Chris Hubbard)

The Stanford gull roost also produced the county’s first Mediterranean Gull of 2023, a first-winter, on 12th and it continued to work its magnetic magic by pulling in the highest single site total of Caspian Gulls with five (four adults and a third-winter) there on 13th. DIRFT 3 delivered two Caspian Gulls – a third-winter and a first-winter on 9th, while the regular adult was at Hollowell Res on 7th-9th and 12th-13th and single adults were at Stanford on 9th-10th and Ditchford GP on 12th.

First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)
First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Once again outnumbered by the above species, single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited Hardingstone GP on 7th and Ditchford GP on 12th, while Pitsford Res retained its regular adult on 12th-13th.

On the raptor front, Merlins were not in short supply but, as ever, being in the right place at the right time was a prerequisite for connecting with them. In this respect, single flyovers were seen at Yardley Gobion on 9th, New Duston (Northampton) on 12th and at Earls Barton GP on 13th.

As for passerines, well, once again, the same out-of-reach group of Waxwings made it into the news for the second week running. Tantalisingly close, the twenty or so birds on the wrong side of the River Ouse that is Buckinghamshire, were again seen in, and around, Stony Stratford on 10th, when it was reported that, for a second time, some had crossed into Northants, briefly visiting the rear gardens of some local houses. So near, yet so far …

By contrast, things were going swimmingly along Mary’s Lane at Earls Barton, where one Yellow-browed Warbler continued to perform throughout the weekend of 7th-8th. Come the working week, however, in line with the old proverb, all good things must come to an end – they did … and there was no subsequent sign of it.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 7th January 2023 (John Kirkelionis)

Stonechats appeared settled at four localities, with four at Earls Barton on 12th, twos at Pitsford on 8th and at Raunds CP on 13th and one at Hollowell on 9th.

Male Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 8th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

Arguably for some, in terms of local rarity, the bird of the week slot was occupied by Twite, two of which were found close to the Grand Union Canal near Yardley Gobion, on 9th. If accepted, these would constitute only the fourth county record this century, the previous three being at Ditchford in December 2014, Pitsford in October 2011 and Borough Hill in October 2000. Twite was formerly a scarce, but almost annual, winter visitor, numbers of which peaked in the 1970s, with a flock of forty-one at Pitsford Res – the prime location for this species – in January 1976. Records continued through the 80s with notably smaller numbers, waning considerably in the 90s, when the last was down to just one in 1998. This represents a sad reflection of its precarious status in England, having suffered a steep decline this century, with the breeding population falling by 75% between 1999 and 2013.

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Newsround – 31st December 2022 to 6th January 2023

A mild, wet and frequently windy backdrop to the local birding landscape set the scene for the first week of 2023. And while the dynamic duo of Yellow-browed Warblers clearly constituted the main point of focus for the new year, potentially more alluring fare lurked, overshadowed, in the background …

The bird quite literally in question, then, was an interesting-looking drake Aythya duck found during the last hour of daylight on 2nd, at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh NR. Initially identified and announced as a Greater Scaup, the subsequent publication of an image and videos quickly led to a debate over its true identity and a dichotomy of opinion has given rise to the emergence of a Lesser Scaup camp versus a pro-hybrid faction. While the quality of the published media do not allow detailed, feather-by-feather analysis, there were some pointers clearly leading the identification away from Greater Scaup.

Unidentified Aythya duck, Thrapston GP, 2nd January (Nick Parker)

Most evident was the head shape, which aligns convincingly with that of Lesser Scaup and was instrumental in setting alarm bells ringing. While an assessment of the true feather patterning on the flanks and mantle was just out of reach, there was no ‘write-off’ plumage feature to exclude that species. Plumage does not tell the whole story, however. The perceived size, shape and bulk appeared to match those of nearby Pochards, suggesting that this bird’s dimensions fall outside the parameters generally associated with the more compact appearance of Lesser Scaup and therefore point to a hybrid – suggested by some as being likely between Tufted Duck and Pochard. Advocates of Lesser Scaup point out, however, that there is an overlap in size between Pochard and Lesser Scaup, arguing the point that this bird could simply be one of the latter, at the top end of the size range. The jury is currently out, the bird hasn’t been seen again and hopes are high that it will reappear, providing the opportunity for greater scrutiny, ultimately leading to a positive identification. On the same date this bird was seen, a Greater Scaup was reported from Pitsford Res and, two days later, another was also reported from Summer Leys LNR.  

And so from stranger things to things less complicated, a Pink-footed Goose accompanied a flock of Greylags as they flew in to Daventry CP on 6th and the local female Ruddy Shelduck made its first appearance of 2023 at Hollowell Res on 1st-2nd.

Pink-footed Goose, Daventry CP, 6th January 2023 (Gary Pullan)

This week’s Red-crested Pochards were limited to the long-staying drake at Stanford Res and the female at Hardingstone GP – both remaining throughout the period. Last week’s two drake Smews at Pitsford had grown to three on 1st, dwindling to just one by the period’s end, while a ‘redhead’ was discovered at Blatherwycke Lake on 2nd.

Smew, Pitsford Res, 2nd January 2023 (Alan Coles)

A wholly unexpected visitor to Daventry CP – at least during in January – was an adult Kittiwake, which was found loitering on the dam there during the morning of 5th. Approachable and seemingly moribund, it had departed by the afternoon and was no doubt the same bird which had been exhibiting the same ‘teasing’ behaviour at nearby Draycote Res, Warwickshire the previous day, before flying off strongly with other gulls.

Kittiwake, Daventry CP, 5th January 2023 (Gary Pullan)

Of far more regular occurrence, this week’s only to be expected gulls included up to two adult Caspian Gulls in the roost, nightly, at Stanford, two adults off the dam at Pitsford on 2nd and 5th and one at Hollowell on 2nd. Surprisingly outnumbered by the previous species, single Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at Pitsford on 1st, Stanford on 4th and at both Daventry CP and Hardingstone GP on 5th.

Remember the male Hen Harrier seen between Mears Ashby and Earls Barton, then later over Summer Leys LNR on 27th December? Well, it’s still around, having been seen again over Sywell Road, just east of Mears Ashby, on the afternoon of 3rd. And following two in the county last week, a male Merlin was seen near West Farndon on 6th.

Turning to passerines it would seem that, as far as Northamptonshire is concerned, flyover Waxwings are in vogue and, as if serving to underline this, a flock of approximately twenty was reported flying ‘well into Northants’ from Buckinghamshire, across the River Ouse, toward Cosgrove on 5th. In the context of the current so-called ‘invasion’, with the vast majority of birds in Scotland and northern England, this double-figure flock constitutes a sensationally large number for a location so far south and inland in the UK. The chance of nailing any down locally seems, at present, equivalent to a lottery win …

This is certainly not the case with the two crowd-pleasing Yellow-browed Warblers at Earls Barton GP, both of which were present until at least 2nd, with at least one remaining until the week’s end. Undoubtedly presenting the best photographic opportunity of all time in the UK, these birds have been highly obliging, regularly showing well and low to the masses, down to just a few metres – so much so that the observation area has now become a veritable mud bath!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 6th January 2023 (Keith Jones)

Ending with a splash of colour, the week’s Stonechats were seen at Catesby, Earls Barton GP, Ecton SF, Hollowell, Pitsford and Sywell CP.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 1st January 2023 (Leslie Fox)

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Newsround – 10th to 16th December 2022

As the temperature dropped to minus 9°C in the early hours on the last day of the period, the week just gone gave us a taste of what winters used to be like, in the days when we were all made of sterner stuff. Although new birds were on offer, the continuing cold spell also delivered some casualties.

And the sub-zero temperatures resulted in increasingly extensive ice and more bodies of water freezing over, the resultant effect of which was a clear-out of wildfowl from many localities. Such displacements are not without reward, though, and, disregarding the appearance of a Barnacle Goose at Kislingbury GP on 10th, eight Pink-footed Geese flew east over Hartwell on 15th and the Ravensthorpe bird was still in place at the week’s end.

Red-crested Pochards were here and there, with Stanford’s quota up to seven again on 10th and the two drakes still at Kislingbury on the same date. By the following day, just one drake remained at Stanford and two drakes were found on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, while 14th saw three (two drakes) at Daventry CP.

Two new Smew – a drake and a ‘redhead’ – were found at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on the last day of the week.

Smews, Thrapston GP, 15th December 2022 (Nick Parker)

Sadly, two days after initially being reported, the period’s only Cattle Egret was found dead at Thorpe Malsor Res on 16th. Accompanying a small flock of sheep and having been present since at least 11th, it had become approachable down to 2 metres and it appears safe to conclude that its death resulted from not being able to find enough food in the frozen conditions. No other Cattle Egrets were reported from the usual localities during the week.

Cattle Egret, Thorpe Malsor Res, 16th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

A juvenile Shag paid a brief visit to Daventry on the morning of 14th, checking out before midday, ahead of the expanding icy conditions which resulted in 90% of the water’s surface there being frozen by the following day. This is the second record for Daventry in 2022 and the fifth for the year as a whole – two at Pitsford and one in Towcester.

Maintaining their winter presence in the Nene Valley, Marsh Harriers were seen at Summer Leys LNR on 10th, Stanwick GP on 13th and at Titchmarsh LNR on 16th.

Obviously it’s not a standout time of year for waders, so the week’s tally remained low and was restricted to a meagre crop of a Black-tailed Godwit at Titchmarsh LNR on 16th and two Jack Snipes at Hollowell and Pitsford on 11th and 13th, respectively.

Black-tailed Godwit, Thrapston GP, 16th December 2022 (Nick Parker)

Gulls, too, had dwindled to just two adult Caspian Gulls at Hollowell on 11th and one there again on 16th, plus single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford on 11th and 14th. Despite the sustained, icy, northerly blow, the number of ‘white-wingers’ remains surprisingly small, nationwide, so the chance of anything dropping in from the Arctic in the near future remains low.

This week’s token Short-eared Owl flew west-north-west over Daventry CP on 15th, while the period’s two Merlins were both seen on 14th – one at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and the other near Burton Latimer.

Apart from the – or ‘a’ – Bearded Tit heard calling near the Visitor Centre at Stanwick, this week’s standout passerine was a Yellow-browed Warbler which showed briefly on the island in Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP during the last couple of hours of daylight on 16th. The observer’s caveat to the effect that Hume’s Warbler could not be ruled out, along with this bird’s appearance at one of the county’s most popular birding locations, should be more than enough to ensure it is searched for over the ensuing days.

Making news for a different reason, however, was the Black Redstart that turned up inside Northampton General Hospital on 12th. An apparent male, it was initially reported by on-site personnel as a ‘pigeon’ trapped in a room, until photographed and subsequently identified by a member of staff, who opened the window to free the bird. A bizarre story indeed.

Black Redstart, Northampton General Hospital, 12th December 2022 (Jeanne Carr)

Otherwise, Stonechats provided a smidgeon of entertainment at six localities, which included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Sywell CP and Upton CP/Kislingbury GP, with a maximum of at least seven at Hollowell on 11th.

Stonechat, Upton CP, 14th December 2022 (Tony Stanford)

Following one over Oundle last week, another Crossbill was seen at Pitsford on 13th. Hopefully, 2023 will turn out to be a better year for this species than 2022 has.

Newsround – 3rd to 9th December 2022

With the onset of a strong easterly airstream off the near continent, temperatures tumbled from the word go. They were to fall even lower as the winds subsequently swung northerly, delivering significantly colder air from the high Arctic …

Sub-zero overnight temperatures and heavy ground frosts had become the norm as the week drew to a close and, on the last day, single Pink-footed Geese were found at both Ravensthorpe Res and Stanwick GP. There was no way of telling if these were new birds or if they had been kicking around backstage for some time, although the latter seems highly likely for the Ravensthorpe individual at least.

Red-crested Pochards maintained their presence with the highest numbers again at Stanford Res, where last week’s nine had dropped to four as the week opened, further dwindling to one by the end of the period. Elsewhere, two were at Pitsford Res on 4th, the long-staying drake at Daventry CP was joined by another on 8th and two drakes were found at Kislingbury GP on 9th.

Several rungs up the celebrity ladder and looking rather settled – at least for the time being – last week’s dapper drake Smew remained at Pitsford throughout, dividing its time between Holcot and Walgrave Bays.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 8th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

This week’s Cattle Egrets were thin on the ground – and in the air, come to that – with single birds seen flying east over Irthlingborough on 4th, at Stanwick on 5th, flying north over Thrapston GP on 9th and in the riverside meadow opposite Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake on the same date.

Nearby, Summer Leys’ Marsh Harrier continued to be seen sporadically throughout the period and it, or another, was also seen almost daily further down the Nene Valley at Stanwick. The ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was again hunting in the Brampton Valley on 6th.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 7th December 2022 (Clive Bowley)

Unsurprisingly, there were no new waders to add to last week’s. Pitsford’s Wood Sandpiper remained on site until at least 7th and this week’s Jack Snipes comprised four at Daventry on 5th and two at Hollowell on 9th.

Hollowell also broke Stanford’s monopoly on Mediterranean Gulls with an adult in the roost there on 3rd. On the same date, Stanford’s roost held a first-winter, followed on 4th by an adult and a first-winter, an adult on 5th-6th and the first-winter back on 8th. The same two sites vied again to host the county’s Caspian Gulls this week: Stanford produced single adults on 3rd, 5th and 8th, and Hollowell on 4th, 7th and 9th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 4th December 2022 (Jon Cook)
Adult Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 4th December 2022 (Jon Cook)

Meanwhile, single adult Yellow-legged Gulls were present at Stanford on 3rd, DIRFT 3 on 4th and at Pitsford on 7th and 9th.

Remaining scarce during the autumn and now into the winter, Short-eared Owls are still in short supply. Observed from a moving vehicle, the week’s only bird was seen sitting on a roadside hedge near Sywell on 6th. The man behind the wheel was a photographer in a hurry, with no time to undertake a drive-by shooting …

Passerines were few and far between. Stanwick’s long-staying male Bearded Tit remained along the causeway of the A45 Lay-by Pit until at least 7th – the same date on which a Black Redstart was reported to have been killed by a cat at Sywell CP. Sywell also produced the highest number of Stonechats – six on 7th – while, elsewhere, Hollowell and Stanwick scored four apiece, Clifford Hill and Summer Leys, two and Oundle, one.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 6th December 2022 (Leslie Fox)

A Crossbill in flight over the last-mentioned locality, on 4th, was only the 8th record for 2022, the last being on 24th September, when three flew over Harrington AF.

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Newsround – 26th November to 2nd December 2022

In the week when we officially waved goodbye to another autumn, winter was ushered in under a foggy mantle. Gloom, yes, but not quite doom, as a number of new arrivals emerged between the clag and haar of an otherwise dull and gloomy Northamptonshire.

At home in the cool, chilly conditions, Stanwick GP’s juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose saw the autumn out, still being present on 30th. But, heralding the onset of winter, were three adult White-fronted Geese found at Stanford Res on 2nd. Hopefully, there will be more of these to come as winter unfolds, so check those local Greylag flocks, which normally harbour them.

White-fronted Geese, Stanford Res, 2nd December 2022 (Chris Hubbard)

Ducking and diving, the usual scattering of Red-crested Pochards held good this week with numbers climbing to nine at Stanford by the end of the period, single drakes still at both Daventry CP and Wicksteed Park on 28th and at least one still at Pitsford Res on 30th.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Wicksteed Park Lake, Kettering, 28th November 2022 (Nick Parker)

Topping all of the above, though, the first Smew of the new winter season – a fine, dapper drake – arrived on cue, on 30th. Found late in the morning in Pitsford’s Holcot Bay, it appeared to have vanished by mid-afternoon but it was clearly still there and showing, bold as brass, on 2nd. For many locals these birds often represent the highlight of a winter’s day – but for how much longer? Based on their scarcity in southern England over the last few years, it’s recently been suggested that, as a result of climate change and milder winters, Smews are shifting their wintering range further north. So, get them while you can … 

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

The only Cattle Egrets this week were seven at Stanwick GP on 2nd.

Seen again throughout the week, the Marsh Harrier continued to provide both entertainment and photographic opportunities as it extended its dwell time at  Summer Leys, while an adult male Hen Harrier was reported in the Welland Valley, near Gretton, on 29th, along with a Merlin.

Back at Pitsford, last week’s waders were this week’s waders, with the Wood Sandpiper remaining in Scaldwell Bay throughout. The imminent onset of cold weather, coupled with continually rising water levels, will provide a true test of its resilience as the UK’s only known overwintering bird. So, too, the Common Sandpiper remained in the vicinity of dam until at least 27th. Away from this site, the only Jack Snipe reported was one at Ditchford GP on 26th.

Stanford remained the premier site for gulls this week, with Mediterranean Gulls represented by a first-winter in the roost on 26th, followed by two first-winters and a second-winter there on 27th. Upsizing, two adult Caspian Gulls were also there on 26th and one again on 30th while, on 27th, 2 adults visited Pitsford Res and another was in the pre-roost gathering at DIRFT 3. That just leaves Yellow-legged Gulls, of which there were three at Pitsford, also on 27th.

The week’s best passerines were not the easiest to connect with. A report of ten Waxwings caused a bit of a kerfuffle in Long Buckby on 26th and, remaining no less difficult to see, Stanwick’s long-staying male Bearded Tit remained along the causeway of the A45 Lay-by Pit until at least 29th.

Just upriver, at nearby Ditchford GP, a Siberian Chiffchaff was found on 26th and, while constituting the first for the autumn/winter period, it is only the third for 2022.

Another week, another Black Redstart … or two. Following the one at Pitsford last week, a first-winter male was found in the, as yet unused, lorry park at DIRFT 3 on 27th and Harrington AF, too, unsurprisingly got in on the act with one reported there the following day.

First-winter male Black Redstart, DIRFT 3, 27th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

After last week’s low, Stonechat numbers rallied this week, with the top count being four at DIRFT 3 on 27th, twos at Ditchford on 26th, Summer Leys on 28th, Earls Barton GP on 29th and Barnes Meadow LNR on 1st, while singles were at Pitsford on 29th and Stanwick on 30th-2nd.

An extensive high pressure system in place over Russia looks promising for the delivery of some more traditional winter visitors – particularly wildfowl – over the forthcoming week.

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Newsround – 19th to 25th November 2022

The week was characterised by bouts of heavy rain, brought in from the Atlantic by a series of low pressure systems on a varying westerly airstream. And the rain made its mark, leaving some areas flooded and, from an active birding perspective, less easy to negotiate. On the back of this came a handful of new birds to add a little more spice to the birding landscape.

So, new in, on the last day of the week, was a juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose consorting happily with Canada Geese on Stanwick GP’s Main Lake. Somewhat surprisingly, this is only the second for the county in 2022, the first being a lingering individual from last year, which remained at Clifford Hill GP until mid-January.

Juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Stanwick GP, 25th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Popping up on the radar again this week was Whooper Swan, which, like last week’s four, touched neither ground nor water as it flew east over Stanford Res on 19th. Once again, the sole representative of the period’s ducks was Red-crested Pochard. Stanford’s fourteen took a tumble, falling to eight by 25th, Daventry CP’s drake remained until at least 21st, a new drake was discovered on the Fishing Lake at Wicksteed Park on 24th and Pitsford Res retained two of its drakes on 25th.

Making its way into the charts this week was a Bittern – seen in flight and believed to have landed – at Stortons GP on 24th. This suburban locality has a track record for producing wintering Bitterns but its reedbed is dense and offers little in the way of ideal viewing points. The only other ‘herons’ of note were single-figure numbers of Cattle Egrets, which were predominantly at Stanwick GP, where the maximum was seven on 20th. Apart from this, four flew north-east over Ditchford GP on 21st.

After a one-day bird at Thrapston GP last week, the Nene Valley ramped up its numbers of Marsh Harriers, with one seen at Summer Leys daily throughout the period, two flying east together over Stanwick on 22nd, followed by one there on 25th and one flying west over Ditchford on 23rd. At Summer Leys, exciting photographic opportunities await those with time and patience …

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 20th November 2022 (Ricky Sinfield)

Last week’s ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier remained in the Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley area, again being seen on 20th and 22nd.

With water levels still relatively low, Pitsford remained the premier venue for waders, prime of which were the Wood Sandpiper, remaining in Scaldwell Bay throughout, and the Common Sandpiper in the dam area until at least 23rd. Both birds look set to winter but the chances of this actually happening currently look slim, given the ongoing rainfall and the heavy gush of water through a large feeder pipe into the back of Scaldwell Bay, if the latter continues. A Jack Snipe also added flavour on 19th.

But if Pitsford topped the leaderboard with waders, then Summer Leys pulled in two oft sought-after gulls which are more usually associated with spring passage. First up were two Little Gulls, which flew through the site without lingering, after the week opened, on 20th. These were followed in the last hour of daylight as the week closed on 25th, when, looking potentially moribund, an adult Kittiwake appeared on the Main Lake there. Shaping up to be the one and only Kittiwake of 2022, there has been no further news of it to date. After a momentary downturn, Stanford’s remarkable autumn run of Mediterranean Gulls was reignited this week when the roost there held no fewer than four different individuals, with anything up to three being seen there nightly between 20th and 25th.

Otherwise, large, white-headed larids in the shape of Yellow-legged Gulls were divided between Pitsford, where single adults were present between 21st and 23rd, and Stanford, where two adults joined the roost on 19th and 21st and single birds were present on 20th, 24th and 25th.

Away from the water, the somewhat drier habitat of Harrington AF played host to this week’s Short-eared Owl on the last day of the period. And what a great week for Merlins, with no less than four being seen. The 19th saw one in the Brampton Valley while, the following day, DIRFT 3, Stanford Res and Stowe-nine-Churches all came up trumps for birders in these three areas.

Topping the bill for passerines was the ongoing presence of the handsome male Bearded Tit along the causeway and in the reedbeds skirting Stanwick’s A45 Lay-by Pit. Although remaining on site throughout the week, easy to see it was not. Mobile, elusive, wide-ranging and frequently invisible, though audible, attempting to nail it down continued to present a challenge.     

Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 25th November 2022 (Duncan Woodhead)

Similarly, the Black Redstart found at Pitsford’s Saling Club, late on 22nd, presented its own viewing problems. Feeding mainly on the ground, as it slipped between the onshore yachts, keeping tabs on it proved to be anything but plain sailing.

Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 19th November 2022 (Leslie Fox)

Ending, as is the norm of late, with Stonechats, numbers this week were poor. Two or three at Earls Barton GP on 19th, two at Clifford Hill GP on 24th and three at Pitsford on 25th were very much the lowest for some considerable time.

Newsround – 12th to 18th November 2022

As weather conditions moved slowly along in the direction toward a seasonal norm, last week’s leftovers, combined with a few new arrivals, served to keep things going …

Heading up this week’s wildfowl – if only for a few minutes – four Whooper Swans flew west at Daventry CP on the last day of the week. Apart from that, more static fare was on offer in the shape of a generally settled bunch of Red-crested Pochards, fourteen of which continued to feature at Stanford Res throughout the period. Daventry CP also hung on to its one and only drake for the same duration, while Pitsford Res made a bit of a comeback, with four on 13th and two on 16th.

Sticking with said reservoir, last week’s juvenile Great Northern Diver, found just before dusk on the last day, upped and went the following morning, 12th, heading off high south-west. On the cusp of winter there’s plenty of time for another – at Pitsford, or elsewhere.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 12th November 2022 (Ant Hall)

Over the review period, Cattle Egrets were restricted to Stanwick GP, the roost there attracting up to thirteen between 13th and 15th.

The week’s raptors consisted of two harriers – a Marsh Harrier at Thrapston GP on 16th, followed by a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell two days later, on 18th. If they linger, catching up with them may prove to be another matter entirely …

Last week’s star waders maintained a presence, their numbers briefly boosted by the arrival – and subsequent rapid departure – of two Avocets at Boddington Res on 13th.

Avocets, Boddington Res, 13th November 2022 (Gary Pullan)

With most coming through during spring, appearances in November are few, with Boddington, Daventry and Thrapston accounting for the three records in that month during the last 20 years, which have seen a significant increase in occurrences. While the trend line in local records may mirror the shape of an Avocet’s bill, it also represents the upturn in its UK population growth, which has increased by 326% over the last 25 years.

Back at Pitsford, and looking set to tough out the winter, the Wood Sandpiper lingered along the shoreline, between the causeway and the current ‘low tide’ of Scaldwell Bay, for the duration of the period. Seemingly not following suit, though, last week’s Little Stint remained throughout the weekend of 12th-13th before subsequently vanishing. Another wader still on site there was last week’s Common Sandpiper, still on the dam on 16th, while the week’s only Jack Snipe was found at Hollowell Res on 18th.

Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 16th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)
Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 16th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Set to rival Stanford for roosting Mediterranean Gulls, Pitsford produced two different adults on consecutive evenings, the 16th and 17th, and Boddington almost made the grade by dishing up an adult Mediterranean x Black-headed Gull hybrid on 13th. Large, white-headed gulls were also available, with single adult Caspian Gulls in the roosts at Stanford on 13th and Boddington on 14th, and at Hollowell on 18th. Boddington, Pitsford and Stanford shared this week’s Yellow-legged Gulls with no more than three at any one location.

The Short-eared Owl remained on the outskirts of Farthingstone, being seen on 12th and 16th and a male Merlin put in an appearance at Summer Leys on 13th, followed by one flying north over the Brampton Valley, near Brixworth, the following day.

Passerines were again in short supply and topping the rather short bill was a first-winter Ring Ouzel over, and behind, the dam at Boddington on 14th, while this week’s Stonechat numbers rallied somewhat, with Pitsford holding five on 13th and Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Kettering, Summer Leys and Upton CP all producing between one and two birds apiece.

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Newsround – 4th to 11th November 2022

With the continuing run of unseasonally mild weather, what seemed set to be a lacklustre week was rescued at the eleventh hour by an unexpected reignition of autumn wader passage, along with the arrival of a deep water diver – all very conveniently in one place …

However, the period opened and closed with a rather reduced selection of wildfowl – in this case limited strictly to Red-crested Pochards. While Daventry CP hung on to its one and only drake, numbers built at Stanford Res, which came clearly to the fore by producing fourteen – eleven of which were drakes – from mid-week onwards. During the same period, not even one of Pitsford’s former double-figure flock was anywhere to be seen.

At the week’s end, though, it emerged that the latter locality had clearly traded up its ducks deluxe for a more exciting model in the form of the annually expected Great Northern Diver, a juvenile of which checked in for an overnight stay, late on 11th.

The removal of the Doddington cows from the field next to Summer Leys heralded the departure of the Cattle Egret, which had been accompanying them for the last couple of weeks. That just left the traditional location of Stanwick GP to deliver the goods, with one on 6th, ten leaving the roost there early on 7th, five on site on 9th and ten flying over on 11th.

But it was Pitsford which, once again, entered the limelight by pulling all of this week’s waders out of the hat on the last day. So, only the 5th this year, a juvenile Little Stint appeared just north of the causeway on 11th. It is one of the latest to occur in Northamptonshire, although small numbers were still being seen in at least nine other UK counties during the period.

Juvenile Little Stint, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Somewhat uncannily, though, the appearance of a Wood Sandpiper in the same area, at the same time, almost mirrors last year’s December appearance of a bird which spent the greater part of the winter in the county, after first spending time at Eyebrook Res in Leicestershire. History appears to have repeated itself this year, with one, said to be a juvenile, at Eyebrook last week. Although difficult to age with certainty, the Pitsford bird appears to be an adult. If so, is it a returning bird … and how long will it stay?

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Last up, a Common Sandpiper was also found on the dam at Pitsford on 11th. While no biggie, it’s well out of season.

But if Pitsford was the place for waders, then Stanford was the place to be for gulls, having produced three different Mediterranean Gulls during the period. First up was an adult in the roost on 5th, followed by a first-winter, nightly, from 6th to 8th and then a different first-winter on 11th. Larger larids were also available, represented by an adult Caspian Gull in the Stanford roost on 6th and 8th, a near-adult at DIRFT 3 on 9th and a first-winter at Daventry CP the following day.

Near-adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

The small number of Yellow-legged Gulls this week comprised an adult in the Stanford roost on 6th plus two there on 8th, single adults at Daventry CP on 7th and Summer Leys on 11th and one at Pitsford on the latter date.

A Short-eared Owl was at Farthingstone on 11th and a male Merlin at Stanford on 6th. Passerines were in short supply with this week’s Stonechats appearing to take a tumble with twos at DIRFT 3 on 5th and Sywell CP the following day, while three were at Pitsford on 11th. Apart from that, a Water Pipit paid a brief visit to the Scrape at Summer Leys on 6th.

Newsround – 29th October to 4th November 2022

In the week just gone, we waved goodbye to British Summer Time and, so it seems, to most of the interesting autumn migrants. That’s not to say there was no drama, though, as Northamptonshire likely missed out on adding one more species to its county list …

Echoing last week, the long-staying Pink-footed Goose in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area was seen just the once, again at Ravensthorpe Res, on 31st but a respectable number – twenty-nine this time – was seen in flight over Harrington AF on 4th. Similarly mirroring last week, the female Ruddy Shelduck again paid a one-day visit to Stanford Res on 30th.

Red-crested Pochards continued to loom large, again being seen at five localities. As far as numbers were concerned, Pitsford Res once more came out on top with eleven still present on 31st, while Stanford held on to its six on 29th-30th, dropping to five for the remainder of the period. Clifford Hill GP mustered five on 3rd, Summer Leys LNR retained two on 29th and Daventry CP its one and only until at least 3rd.

Numbers of Cattle Egrets were pretty much down to rock bottom during the period, with Stanwick producing one on 30th, while last week’s bird at Summer Leys remained throughout, on the northern flank of the reserve, in a cattle field below Great Doddington.

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Which brings us neatly on to … Great Egret, dropped from the weekly some time ago. Why so? Well, a record count of twenty-one at Pitsford at the end of the week serves to underline the fact that they are, we’ll just say, really rather common these days. Their ‘rarity status’ is, let’s face it, a thing of the past and you’d be hard pressed to saunter round Pitsford, north of the causeway, and find the same number of Grey Herons. The only difference is they don’t breed … yet. Those of us who made the abortive trip to North Yorkshire’s Scaling Dam Reservoir to see Britain’s 12th, in June 1974, have no doubt felt rightly miffed in recent years. If only we’d known …

This week it was the turn of Hen Harrier to steal the raptorial limelight, with a ‘ringtail’ mobile around the Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area, late in the day on 3rd.  

In the wader camp, the lingering Black-tailed Godwit remained north of the causeway at Ravensthorpe until at least 2nd and last week’s Summer Leys bird spilled momentarily into this week, being seen there again on 29th.

The few scarcer larids were represented by an adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 31st and Yellow-legged Gulls, which were down to an adult and a third-winter at Pitsford on 31st. Two adults were at Ravensthorpe and an adult at Sywell CP – also on 31st, the latter remaining until 3rd, while another adult visited Summer Leys on 2nd.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Sywell CP, 3rd November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Short-eared Owls were on the up a little this week with the Borough Hill individual still present on 29th, the same date on which another was seen near Thrapston GP’s Elinor Trout Lake. Another was found in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton on 1st and seems likely to have been the same bird seen hunting over adjacent farmland at Cottesbrooke on 4th.

Arguably bird of the week – and potentially bird of the year – was a Pallid or Common Swift seen flying south over Wellingborough during the afternoon of 2nd. Setting this in context, a record-breaking number of at least eighty Pallids have graced British skies over the past couple of weeks. Pallid Swift is unique among European swifts in being routinely double-brooded, with the young of the second brood fledging … in October. Whack in a protracted period of unseasonal, far-reaching southerlies and bingo! But just to complicate matters, a small number of Common Swifts have also been caught up in the influx, being positively identified over the same period. Undoubtedly a heady mixture of surprise and frustration for the observer in Wellingborough, which probably translates broadly into ‘I wish I’d never seen it!’ The one that got away – we’ve all been there …

A Merlin was seen at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 4th.

Passerines kick off with a further report of a single Bearded Tit along the causeway of Stanwick’s A45 Lay-by Pit emerging on 30th but there’s next to no further information about it. While Ring Ouzels made it back onto the menu this week, neither of the two birds reported was readily viewable. One was seen briefly on 30th between Bradden and Greens Norton before flying off with Redwings towards Slapton, while the other was in an unspecified area somewhere near Lamport Hall on 4th.   

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 31st October 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Small numbers of Stonechats continued to be reported with seven localities holding no more than two birds apiece, while a late Northern Wheatear was found at Harrington on 4th.

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